John Branson's Sermon, Sunday, August 28th
Pent. 12, Proper 17, Emmanuel, Dublin, 8/28/2022
Jeremiah 2:4-13; Ps. 81: 1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14: 1, 7-14
The other day a parishioner walked into the rectory with a sheaf of papers in their hand and said; just wanted you to have this. Perhaps the Managing Committee might like to see it as well.
The first page was a typed note from the parishioner indicating how very much they had relished reading, contemplating a series of quotes covering the sheaf’s five following pages. The quotes were sayings of many persons of renown, ancient and modern--all focused on the subject of compassion.
These quotes had been forwarded to this parishioner by a family member who recently attended an exhibit on compassion in art museum. These sayings supplemented, or augmented the visual art display, illustrating compassion.
The quotes were gleaned from a variety of sources---20th century writers and poets such as Maya Angelou, Helen Keller, and Leo Buscaglia.And there were quotes of ancient and contemporary mystics---Lao Tsu; Zechariah of the Old Testament; Edward Cayce; Meister Eckhart; St. Francis of Assisi; as well as more popular names such as Fred Rogers; Albert Einstein; Albert Schweitzer; George Carlin, the comedian; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Mother Theresa; Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the Dali Lama.
I share a few quotes from the exhibit: Zechariah, from the Hebrew scriptures says: Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor, and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.And another from the Dali Lama, my religion is very simple.My religion is kindness.And one more from Mother Theresa—We can do no great things, only small things with love.All of these sayings as you hear and imagine them, focus on compassion.
I am inspired by these sayings.And I am using them as the lead-in to this sermon on the Epistle appointed for this day, a portion of the Letter to the Hebrews. In the Letter, the author says; Let mutual love continue….Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
In these words, I hear the call that every person identifying themselves as Christian—a disciple of Jesus---and anyone seeking meaning and depth for their souls would do well to consider anew their connections and communion WITH other human beings. Ephesians suggests that without any hesitation, a Christian yearns to enter into the life of another, to quite literally take their place in prison or take their place if they are being tortured.We substitute ourselves in that person’s place that we be able to liberate them, free them from their agony, fear and pain.
Hearing this call or admonition, some of us may feel considerable anxiety and even fear. This charge that we cross over or cross into another’s stress is both a great mystery and the reason why Jesus came into this world.Jesus came into the world to liberate us, to free us from sin, guilt and shame.Jesus came into the world to quite literally take our place when we are being put to the test, when we are being tempted by Satan, when we are overwhelmed by the world in which we live.Jesus came into the world to save the world by love.
Some of you know the derivation of the word, compassion. It comes from the Anglo-French or Late Latin--Com-Pati, or Patior—meaning to bear, or suffer with, to be with suffering.As one dictionary explains it: Sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress and a desire to alleviate it.
Being a compassionate person means to enter INTO the suffering of another.Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, those being tortured as though you were being tortured. Compassion is emotionally, empathetically and spiritually aligning oneself with another’s suffering and distress that that person’s suffering be eased, lightened and lifted. You may have heard the phrase; a burden shared is a burden halved.Compassion means faithfully opening one’s self, to lay oneself bare, to strip away all the “fluff and stuff” of our lives that we lay down--surrender our separate, individual selves that we enter into and be with the suffering, those in distress, those overcome with fear.
The most profound expression and fullest example of com—passion is, of course, the sacrificial life of Jesus.Jesus surrenders his divinity, becomes as we are, becomes ONE with us. We believe (as we say in the Creed) in…Jesus Christ….For us and our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he become incarnate (was em-bodied, was burdened with a body as are we) from the Virgin Mary, and was made man… Jesus becomes--One with us—one of us.
God in Jesus knows, experiences death in the very way we will experience death. If Jesus dies FOR us, we need not be afraid nor fear death. God in Jesus, now mortal, knows intimately and deeply the fears, stresses and strains of every human being.God in Jesus willingly, by love, suffers with humankind. Jesus suffers rejection by his persecutors AND his disciples; Jesus knows deeply abandonment and rejection.Jesus knows cruelty in the lashing of the whip and the strike of the nails, and Jesus, suffocating on the cross dies an ignoble, pain-filled death in Golgotha, outside the walls of Jerusalem in an abandoned quarry known as the garbage dump of the City. God has come down, God has come down to be with us, where we are--in the shadows, in our racism and bigotry, in our despair, in our fears, in the camps, at the Wall, in the blight, and the terrors of the night.
This immense suffering, which some of us know and more of us in time will learn, Jesus takes on in love.Jesus enters into the torment, tribulation and terror of as painful a death as we could imagine--an act of suffering (love) for sake of humankind. God becomes human to suffer with us, that we might know the love of God who, as the writer of the Hebrews says, will never leave us nor forsake us but is with us in all things, in all times, even the depths of hell.
Listen again to the words of the Epistle:Let mutual love continue….Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
God in Jesus comes alongside of each of us, willing to walk through hell for our sakes that we claim Jesus, claim Jesus intimately as our brother.When we are able to surrender our ego and our will, we can then claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And if Jesus walks alongside of us through thick and thin, so are we called to walk alongside the sick, the suffering, the stranger, the alien, the least and the lost.We have been nurtured and formed in Jesus--we have been shown the Way.Now we offer to others what we have learned and received, that they, too, follow. As members of the body of Christ, each of us is responsible for every other member, and as human persons, each is responsible for all of the sin and for all of the resulting suffering that has come into the world.Imitating Christ, we are—in daily and deliberate acts—performing the greatest love of all, of giving our lives for our friends and for the sake of the world.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. The Lord is our helper; we will not be afraid.So let us begin, let us take the first step.